Happy Birthday Reggie! I managed to write fic for you this year instead of ending up doing a picspam, so here's some fluff with the boys.
Pairing/characters: Nick/Stephen, Claudia
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx1640
Summary: Stephen just wants to look after Nick, even when Nick won’t admit he needs it.
AN: Birthday fic for reggietate
There was a sound like something exploding, and Stephen was amused to see Connor actually physically jump in surprise. Cutter sneezed a second time, and fished a tissue out of his pocket with one hand while waving the other hand vaguely in the direction of everyone else as some sort of apology.
Claudia wandered over to where Stephen was standing watch over the anomaly, and, more importantly, watch over Cutter.
“Can’t you do something with him?” Claudia asked quietly.
“Such as?” Stephen replied with a smile, as Cutter blew his nose loudly, and Connor tried to surreptitiously sidle away from him.
“Take him home? Make him sit in the car, at the very least,” Claudia suggested.
“I’ve suggested both those things at least twice. You know what Cutter’s like. He won’t leave until the anomaly closes. He can’t bear the thought he might miss something happening.”
Claudia rolled her eyes. “Are you sure you can’t persuade him?”
“I think the only way to make him go home right now is if we get Ryan to knock him out again and then put him in the car while he can’t protest.”
Claudia glanced across to Ryan, and her expression suggested she was giving the idea serious contemplation.
Luckily for all of them, the anomaly chose that moment to flare and then collapse on itself and disappear. Claudia breathed an audible sigh of relief, and then gave Stephen a pointed look.
“All right, all right, I’ll take him away,” Stephen said with a laugh.
“Stephen, please make sure he looks after himself,” Claudia said, looking slightly more serious. Then she added, “I’ll never hear the end of it if he sneezes all over Lester in tomorrow’s briefing.”
Stephen nodded, and then headed for Nick.
“Come on, time to take you home, before you give your cold to the entire team instead of just me.”
“I can take myself home if you’re that bothered about it,” Nick said, sounding as grumpy as he looked with the entire situation.
“Just get in the car and stop being stubborn,” Stephen replied with a smile that showed there was no real annoyance behind his words.
The ride home was quiet, punctuated occasionally with explosive bouts of sneezing that left Nick looking more and more sorry for himself now that the adrenaline and excitement of the anomaly was wearing off. Once back at Nick’s house, Stephen steered him in the direction of the sofa, left a box of tissues on the arm of the sofa next to him, and then disappeared into the kitchen to make tea and food.
“There you go. Food won’t be long.” Stephen handed him a steaming drink.
“Thanks.” Nick hesitated as he eyed the drink. “Not coffee?” he commented, looking a little plaintive with his puffy, red rimmed eyes.
“Don’t worry, it’s got plenty of special ingredient.”
Nick sniffed at the drink, and then managed a smile before he sipped it. There was enough scotch in the tea that he could smell it, even despite his blocked nose.
“Thanks, Stephen,” he said, settling back into the sofa and closing his eyes, the mug cradled in both hands and held where he could still inhale the scotch-laden steam that was gently coiling out of it.
As Stephen watched him, an idea started to form in his mind, but before he could put it into practise he heard the sound of bubbling coming from the kitchen, and had to deal with dinner. He waited until the pasta was slightly more well-cooked than usual before serving it up, so that it was softer on Nick’s sore throat, and then poured tomato and garlic pasta sauce all over it. If nothing else, he thought Nick ought to be able to taste the garlic.
It wasn’t the most exciting meal ever, but it was hot and full of carbohydrate, which was precisely what they both needed after spending the last six hours stood in the cold and drizzle. Normally Nick tended to talk while eating, especially so after an anomaly, and Stephen suspected it was a sign of how grotty he was feeling (and how hungry they both were) that barely a word passed between them until they’d finished wolfing it down.
Nick sat back again and eyed the box of tissues with an annoyed expression.
“You don’t need to stay, Stephen, I’ll be fine. Besides, there no point you getting this cold as well.”
“I think it’s a bit late to be worrying about that, don’t you? Besides, I’ve got an idea that might help you get some sleep tonight.”
“Oh?” Nick looked both interested and hopeful at that, so Stephen took it as assent, even though Nick actually had no idea what he was planning.
Stephen went and dug around in his rucksack until he found what he was looking for crushed in the bottom of the bag under everything else. He had bought it for himself a few months earlier when he’d had a particularly stubborn cold, but never actually used it, and Stephen was a big believer in waste not, want not.
Nick eyed him suspiciously when he returned to the living room carrying a large, steaming bowl of water, and placed it on the coffee table in front of Nick.
“What the hell is that for?”
“It’s a steam inhalation. It’s got menthol and eucalyptus in it, and it should clear your nose, at least for a while.”
Nick looked sceptical, but leaned forward and came it a tentative sniff.
Stephen chuckled. “You need to do better than that to get any effect. Lean right over it and just breathe.”
Nick shuffled forwards until he was perched on the edge of the sofa and leaned his elbows on his knees and let his head hang over the bowl.
“I feel bloody ridiculous,” he muttered after a moment.
“Lucky there’s no one else here to see, then,” Stephen replied, sitting down next to Nick and gently running his hand up and down Nick’s back. Nick sighed, and apparently decided he may as well stop fighting the inevitable, and took a long, deep breath of steam.
Stephen knew he ought to have Nick drape a towel over his head as well to get the full effect, but he suspected Nick would draw the line at looking quite that silly, so decided it wasn’t even worth suggesting. He also neglected to mention the word ‘aromatherapy’, knowing how dim a view Nick took of such ‘unscientific’ remedies. He just wanted to see Nick get better, and if that meant steering a course around Nick’s many quirks and stubborn ideas, then he was prepared to go the extra distance to look after him, even when Nick refused to admit he needed looking after.
“Mmmmm, that’s good,” Nick said after a while.
“Do I get to say, ‘I told you so,’ now?”
“Actually I meant what you’re doing with your hand, but yeah, the steam might be helping a bit as well.”
Stephen realised he had been unconsciously stroking up and down Nick’s spine. He didn’t need any more encouragement to continue, and he clambered across until he was sitting right behind Nick, his legs to either side of his friend, and this time he applied both hands to the task of rubbing Nick’s back and shoulders. He didn’t have to be a trained masseur to feel the tension in his muscles. Stephen untucked Nick’s t-shirt and pushed it up until it was gathered up around Nick’s shoulders, and then embarked on a mission to massage away all of Nick’s aches and tension.
Stephen’s thumbs sought out every knotted muscle and worked at each one until he felt the taut flesh loosen and relax under his ministrations. Nick gave a soft sigh as Stephen slowly kneaded down either side of his spine. Stephen lost track of time, only vaguely aware of how long they had been doing this when he had to stop and flex his fingers. He didn’t mind. Nick had looked like hell all day, and if this helped him to relax then it was more than worth it.
“Much as I’m enjoying this, I think I might be in danger of falling asleep head first into this bowl of water if you don’t stop soon,” Nick murmured.
Stephen smiled at the mental image that briefly conjured, and then he tugged Nick’s t-shirt back down and slipped his arms around the other man’s waist.
“That would be unfortunate.”
Nick chuckled. “That’s one word for it.”
“If you’re going to fall asleep, I can think of better places to do it than into a bowl of water.”
Stephen pulled Nick backwards until he was resting against Stephen’s chest, and wrapped his arms around him. He wondered if he might jinx it if he pointed out that Nick hadn’t sneezed for at least the last half an hour, and decided not to risk it, just in case.
“Mmmmm,” Nick replied, wriggling a little until he settled.
Stephen absently ran his hand up and down Nick’s arm, wondering if he ought to go and get a blanket, or suggest they adjourn to bed rather than have to move again later. He was just about to suggest it when he heard Nick make a soft snuffling sound. Stephen hesitated, and then said quietly, “Nick?”
Nick snuffled again.
Stephen craned his neck as far as he dared to see confirmation of what he suspected – Nick had fallen asleep on him. He smiled and settled back down again, still gently stroking Nick’s arm. They were going to have to move eventually, they couldn’t stay here all night like this, but for the moment Stephen didn’t have the heart to wake his friend. He couldn’t resist the urge to nuzzle his hair, and press a light kiss against his head.